Cabinet members have reportedly demanded the government ditches safeguards post Brexit which were designed by the EU to protect employees from working excessive hours – but this should come as no surprise to anyone, Brexit was all about watering down our employment rights all along.
Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs pressed the prime minister on Monday to guarantee the regulation would be retained after Brexit – true to form, the Prime Minister did her best to skate around the issue, and refused to rule out scrapping the Working Time Directive.
If the EU Working Time Directive is scrapped seven million workers could lose rights to paid holidays – many on zero-hours or part-time contracts stand to lose the most. Workers could also lose the right to lunch and rest breaks, and night workers could lose some health and safety protections, according to the TUC.
The 2017 Conservative manifesto promised to ‘enhance workers’ rights. Theresa May did promise workers’ rights would be “fully protected and maintained” as EU law is translated into domestic rules – but you’d be unwise to trust a single word that comes out of her mouth, she has no real power and a track-record of deceit, blatant lies, and U-turns.
One newspaper quoted one unnamed minister saying that scrapping the Working Time Directive “is what taking back control is all about”. The government talk of freedom when in reality they aim to abolish people’s rights and protections.
Buzzwords like “red tape” should have been enough to make us wary during the campaigning stage of the vote on membership of the European Union, it’s all well and good wanting to “take back control” but many seem not to have considered who said control would be handed over to once we took it back. Many in the Tory ranks have wanted the Working Time Directive and other employment rights that we now take for granted, but were hard fought for, scrapped for years.
Many on the right will argue that this will give workers chance to earn more overtime pay, but workers can opt out for a specific period or indefinitely: this has to be voluntary. You can’t be treated unfairly or sacked by your employer if you don’t opt out – you potentially could be if the directive was scrapped.
Annual leave is part of the directive. If we scrap it, paid holiday is at stake – as are enforced rest and break periods (this includes lunch breaks).
The whole point of the directive is for the purposes of safety and wellbeing. Workers in sectors like health and transport are more likely to make dangerous mistakes if they’re overworked and exhausted – so we should all worry about the impact of taking away these legal rights.
On top of this, there is the small matter of work/life balance. Everyone deserves the guarantee of time off to rest, relax and spend with family and friends.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that a Conservative Brexit will weaken workers’ rights, deregulate the economy and slash corporate taxes” – Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury
The rule of thumb is this, the Conservatives will always put the interests of corporations above the interest of the workers. Post-Brexit trade talks will only give them more opportunity to do so.
Brexit promised ordinary working people more control over their lives, yet this promise was sheer bait. Instead, we face a draining away of power to bad bosses and big corporations. I assure you, no one voted for that. No one voted to be forced to work excessive hours. No one voted to lose out on their paid holidays or their lunch breaks.
A lot has been written about Brexit, and more will be written yet. But one thing that remains certain, Brexit was always intended to make it possible to chop up our employment rights and whittle away more power towards big business. This is just the beginning. The next target, Maternity leave.